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Horticultural Apprenticeships

Why limit your options to just university courses when there is the option to become an apprentice? Apprenticeships allow you to earn while you learn and get hands on without the graduate debt. Apprenticeships are a good way to launch yourself into horticulture, freeing you to earn while you learn and combine academic study with on-the-job training and hands on work experience.

How do they work?

Apprentices earn money from day one, unlike graduates who are paying from day one. What’s more you will find yourself alongside workmates with years of experience. They will help you work towards nationally recognised qualifications such as a diploma in garden retail at B&Q or an NVQ in grounds keeping from your favourite football club. School leavers aged over 16 can apply, so why not check out the National Trust and Royal Parks, Capel Manor College or Kew Gardens, all of which take on or train apprentices.

Why choose an apprenticeship?

While your former schoolmates pay university fees, if you are under 18 you will be earning at least £4 an hour rising to £6.95 once you reach 21. Right now is a fantastic time to leap into learning on the job, with a little college work thrown in doing day or block-release coursework. As one of the few areas of education and training not hit by government cuts, apprenticeships are thriving especially with the introduction of the Trailblazers initiative.

The City & Guilds Vocational Rich List, published in August 2011, revealed that people who did apprenticeships not degrees rocketed to £17.6bn, up £1bn from 2008. Government research shows the majority of apprentices (85%) stay in employment  with 64% staying with the same employer. A third of all apprentices received a promotion within a year of finishing, and in their lifetime can earn £150,000 more than their peers without an apprenticeship!

What horticultural sectors and job titles are covered?

Forget the old tales of muddy boots and hour upon hour of hard manual graft. Apprentices in horticulture lead exciting and varied working lives and are in high demand. Horticulture in England alone employs over 860,000 people with even more workers needed in the next few years to plug a skills gap across virtually all horticulture sectors.

These cover an enormous range of jobs to suit people keen on working outdoors and with plants but who are not afraid of science, technology and dealing with people. Careers for apprentices in horticulture include fine-turf keeping, landscape design or construction and tree surgery, but you also learn general skills like IT and communications.

Amenity horticulture includes gardening for a council or private property. Landscaping meanwhile covers planning, design and maintenance of green spaces in towns and rural areas. Jobs in the amenity sector include greenkeeper or gardener for local-authority sports pitches and parks, an apprentice in a historic house and garden or conservationist in a national park.

Production horticulture deals with large-scale growing of edible crops or ornamental plants for flower beds. Apprentices in this sector grow fruit, vegetables, flowers and trees for sale. In this sector you could end up working in a small private nursery that grows flowers to sell to consumers and wholesalers or maybe a large fruit farm or grower of vegetables.

How do I find an apprenticeship?

The government now provide a free online recruitment tool that can be used to match apprentices to their prospective employers – find an apprenticeship Alternatively, if you can’t find an employer in your area, give your local college a call to find out about training and funding. Some may be able be matchmaker for you and an employer.

How do I find an apprentice?

With the new Trailblazer initiative, more employers than ever are getting involved, any company with a turnover of over £3 million will now be paying an apprenticeship levy. Find out more here 

The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) covers the training of apprentices while the government funds the full cost of training youngsters aged between 16 and 18. NAS also supports employers in recruiting and training a person up to and above the age of 25 including signposting them to providers and advising on the types of apprenticeship.

The government now provide a free online recruitment tool that can be used to match employers to their prospective apprentices – recruit an apprentice 

Apprentice profiles


John Ledwidge did well in his school exams but university was not on the radar. The 16 year old wanted to be a groundsman for his favourite football club Coventry City. He signed up as an apprentice to the midlands team after his GCSEs and within a year he was made deputy head groundsman. His rapid rise, he insists, was down to his apprenticeship.

“I was able to combine theoretical knowledge learned at college with the practical skills and know-how gained in the workplace. This is invaluable as you can’t teach everything in the classroom. Also some people can understand knowledge better on the job than they might in a classroom.”

John joined Premier League club Aston Villa before returning to Coventry recently as grounds manager. His training has led to membership of the Institute of Groundsmanship.

“I came from learning the ropes to being involved in management. Aston Villa employs apprentices and without them and experienced staff there wouldn’t be much of a business. Apprentices bring to the workplace what they are learning at college – all the latest technologies that might not have been around or taught when you yourself started. This can only expand your business and help it grow. Apprentices offer something invaluable to the workplace and they are our future.”

Regional Manager

Dale Lewis is a high flier, but the regional manager for the Garden Centre Group, started his career 20 years ago as an apprentice. He started working part time in a garden centre in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, aged 14, mixing compost and pushing trolleys. But when it came to A’levels at 16 he skipped school.

His apprenticeship lasted three years and by mixing week-long stints at college with his day-to-day work, he notched up a National Diploma in amenity horticulture. Dale had to balance learning about propagating, grafting and spraying plants with flower identification tests and understanding the Latin lore of plant names.

Soon he became a plant area manager before moving to a garden centre in Swindon to take on management duties such as improving sales, handling budgets and controlling waste. When his garden centre was taken over by Garden Centre Group, formerly Wyevale, he was made manager and tackled shop refits and sales as well as his first love, plants.

He is now manager for World’s End Garden Centre in Wendover, Buckinghamshire and a regional manager for the entire group of 119 garden centres in England and Wales. “My biggest personal achievement was being voted manager of the year by the company, while the team was voted best plant-area sales team at a recent industry awards ceremony.” Youngster keen on breaking into garden retail need a good work ethic, common sense and the ability to handle technology and people, he says.


John Porter, who joined the Rainforest Biome team as a paid member of staff in September 2011, started his horticultural career as an apprentice at Eden.

A former tailor in Saville Row, John decided on a career change when the recession hit his company several years ago. After quitting the London life and heading for Cornwall he first signed up for our Taste of Eden programme, a European Social Fund financed scheme to get people back into paid work, before he got a place as an Eden Horticultural Apprentice.

“The variety of the work has been great,” he said. “I’ve loved my time in the Biomes, outdoors, in the nursery, learning everything from seed sowing to pruning.”

Having only dabbled with gardening and been out of school for some 25 years, he said it was great to find a programme where he could “start from scratch. A Foundation Degree might have been too much for me.” Despite doing somewhat of a career u-turn, John realised that his previous experience nevertheless held him in good stead. “Tailoring is a creative industry, but you must have good attention to detail – gardening has just the same high standards.”